Monday, November 24, 2008

Alternatives to CBC Radio, Part II: Satellite Radio

I've been promising to write about my experience with satellite radio as an alternative to the classical music programming previously offered by CBC Radio Two. Well, I see it's been over a year since I made this promise, so I believe it's now time to talk about satellite radio in more detail.

For those of you who have tried listening to CDs, your iPod or streaming audio over the internet and have found all of these alternatives wanting, satellite radio may just be the alternative that you're looking for.

First, you will want to choose between Sirius and XM satellite radio if you're living in Canada. In the U.S., Sirius and XM have merged but it has yet to take place in Canada. Go to the Sirius or XM web sites and register for a trial subscription. You can listen to both on your PC (and I use the term "PC" here to refer to both Apple computers and non-Apple computers, although there are some anal-retentives who have been brainwashed by advertising and believe that the term "PC" refers only to personal computers which use a Microsoft OS, which is simply not true). Listen during your trial subscription and decide which is best for you.

The next step is to do as I advise, not as I did. What did I do, you may ask? I started small, going step-by-step. I should have jumped directly to my final installation, but I had to go through the learning process of each step before I found this out. You can save yourself several steps by learning from my experience. Or not.

First, I bought a satellite radio for the Sirius service, as well as a home kit. I installed the car kit (which comes with the radio) in my primary vehicle and set up the home kit with the Sirius receiver in the kitchen.

The home kit comes with a window antenna. The window antenna, as the name implies, can be installed inside the home on a window sill, or can be installed outside on the roof of the house. To install the antenna outside, you will likely need to purchase an extension cable as well as find a way to run the cable through the exterior of your home or apartment, condominium, thatched hut, cardboard box under a highway overpass, or wherever you happen to be living at the moment.

Wherever you install the antenna, it should have a clear view of the sky, the direction depending on the region of North America that you live in. In my region (North East Canada) the antenna needs to be facing West, Northwest or Southwest. I experimented with different locations for the antenna, finally settling on the interior of the house, just inside the first floor dining room window, even though the dining room window faces another two storey home and did not offer a completely unobstructed view of the sky. To improve the view of the sky I had to set the antenna on top of a step ladder.

This worked well for a time, but I would periodically lose reception. This typically seemed to occur between 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM. There would be sudden silence, and one was never sure whether it was a quiet segment of the piece being played or a loss of reception. Slight movement of the antenna to the left or right would often restore reception, but it was annoying to have to adjust the antenna several times a day. Also, the step ladder did not fit with the decor of the dining room. Of course, the problem was that dining room window did not offer a completely unobstructed view of the West, Northwest or Southwest. But then, if you consider your own dwelling, you will realize how difficult this may be to achieve.

I decided that a rooftop antenna was the only solution. I ordered a rooftop antenna from Dogstar Radio. There are other stores which sell the antenna, including Sirius, but the antenna was out of stock at Sirius when I needed it. Dogstar Radio had the antenna in stock, shipped it quickly and it was a hassle-free transaction. I highly recommend Dogstar Radio.

Once I had received the antenna in the mail, the next step was to install it on the roof. If you have a satellite TV mast, TV antenna or other such object on your rooftop, this should not be a problem. I, however, had nothing of the sort. You can, of course drill holes in your roof and screw the satellite radio base directly the roof or to the fascia on the roof siding, but this did not appeal to me.

Instead, I purchased a 45-degree ABS Y-coupler used for plumbing and a length of 2 inch diameter ABS pipe from Home Depot and installed the Y-coupler on the plumbing vent on the roof. I cut the 2 inch pipe to approximately 2 feet, stuck it into the smaller pipe of the "Y" and attached the antenna to the 2 inch pipe using the fittings provided with the antenna. Thus, no permanent damage was done to the roof.

I ran the cable through a vent in the roof and into the attic. Now, here's where I made another mistake. Having only one radio (in the kitchen) I decided to run the cable down through the second floor, down to the first floor kitchen where I could attach it to the radio. To do so, I had to remove one of the kitchen cabinets, drill a hole through the kitchen ceiling/second floor, run the cable under the bedroom carpeting, into a closet, then up through another hole in the bedroom ceiling and into the attic. While this wasn't a huge amount of work, as you will see later, I could have made my life much simpler.

After installing the satellite antenna, extension cable and satellite receiver in the kitchen, life was good. However, there was a problem - I had satellite radio only in the kitchen. I also wanted satellite radio in the bedroom (as do we all).

I could have purchased a cable splitter, then run another length of cable into the bedroom, but this was now becoming complicated. I discovered that there is a signal repeater system, also available from Sirius, called the "Sirius Echo". It consists of two devices - the Echo Transmitter and the Echo Antenna. The Echo Transmitter attaches to your satellite antenna, and the Echo Antenna attaches to your satellite receiver. The Echo Transmitter transmits the signal received over your antenna to the Echo Antenna attached to your receiver. You can have several Echo Antennas receiving from the same Echo Transmitter, and thus multiple satellite radio receivers spread throughout the house. So I ordered an Echo Transmitter (which comes with an Echo Antenna) and another Echo Antenna from my friends at Dogstar radio.

I set up the Echo Transmitter in the bedroom closet, although I could have just as easily set up the Echo Transmitter in the attic, and avoided the hassle of running the cable down into the second floor bedroom. I placed the first Echo Antenna in the kitchen, next to the satellite receiver, and the second Echo Antenna in the bedroom, next to my second satellite receiver.

The cable running down from the second floor bedroom into the kitchen now became unnecessary, since I had wireless transmission from the bedroom to the kitchen.

You can see now what I should have done from the beginning:

- decide how many satellite radios you wish to install in your abode

- install a rooftop antenna from the beginning

- purchase an Echo Transmitter and install it in central location, easily reached by the rooftop antenna. In my case this would have meant installing the Echo Transmitter in the attic, and avoiding all of the cable installations.

- purchase as many additional Echo Antennas as you need and install them throughout your abode

I installed all of this over a year ago - in September 2007, to be precise - and it has worked flawlessly since then. I highly recommend this set-up.

It should not need to be said, but I'll say it anyway: I have no relationship whatsoever with Sirius Satellite Radio, XM Satellite Radio or Dogstar Radio. I'm just a satisfied customer, of Sirius and Dogstar, at least. I never tried XM Satellite Radio, although I'm sure the service is just as satisfactory as Sirius. When organizations, products or services perform well, they should be praised and publicized. And when organizations (such as CBC Radio), products or services not live up to expectations, they should be castigated.

Friday, November 21, 2008

How did we almost miss this?

The above article appeared in Thursday's Globe and Mail. I've reproduced the text below:

"The new Minister of Canadian Heritage is warning CBC executives to rein in their expenses after reports of heavy spending on theatre tickets, meals and travel.

James Moore has written to the public broadcaster in response to a news story detailing lavish spending by Sylvain Lafrance, executive vice-president for French services.

"I am sure that you are sensitive to the fact that, at a time of fiscal restraint when Canadians are struggling to maintain their jobs and savings, this sort of reported excess does not sit well with them," Mr. Moore wrote in a letter released yesterday to the media.

Reports this week detailed how Mr. Lafrance signed off on almost $80,000 in 2006, including $28,000 on hotels, travel and meals."

I find this interesting not in the spirit of schadenfreude, but for another reason. I conclude from this report - perhaps overly optimistically - that the new Minister of Canadian Heritage, Mr. James Moore, is willing to exercise his duty to oversee the CBC and is willing to remind the CBC executives that, as a Crown Corporation, they are ultimately responsible to the Minister.

Bravo, Mr. Moore! Now, if only the CBC executives could also be reminded that they are also responsible to the shareholders of the CBC, the taxpayers of Canada, namely, you and me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just who reads this blog, anyway?

If you're wondering who reads this blog, I have some information to share with you. Through the miracle of Google Analytics, I have been tracking readership of this blog since its inception on April 28, 2007. Now, never fear, Google Analytics does not allow one to trace readership of this blog to an individual or a specific computer, but it can show where the blog reader happens to be at the time of reading. And this can be quite interesting indeed.

Since April 28, 2007, this blog has been visited 6,058 times, with a total of 10,799 page views. Not hundreds of thousands of visits, as I might have hoped for, but still encouraging. The average time spent on the site is 2 minutes, 15 seconds, probably long enough to read one or two pages and move on. Well, actually 1.78 pages, since this is the average number of pages visited per visit.

Had enough? Well, if not, then I find it interesting that this site has been visited 186 times by readers from the CBC - yes, the dear old Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Average time on the site by readers from the CBC is 1 minute 9 seconds, with an average of 1.95 pages visited. Readers from the CBC must read faster than average, or else they're just skimming. 65.59% of the visits from the CBC are new visits, meaning either that this blog has somewhat wide readership within the CBC, or else it's the same person hopping from computer to computer.

Twenty visits came from the House of Commons, although they've done a good job of ignoring me until this point, with some notable exceptions. Four visits came from the Privy Council Office. Two visits from Industry Canada. Someone in the government has an interest in the fate of CBC Radio Two, or just idly surfing?

Readers from the Globe and Mail (not readers of the Globe and Mail, but readers from the Globe and Mail, the company) have accounted for nine visits. The Toronto Star, not to be outdone, has visited three times. And a reader (or readers) from the New York Times have visited five times, no less! When will I see an article in the NY Times about the continuing controversy over CBC Radio Two in the Great White North?

Someone from Canwest Global Communications has visited six times, and someone from CTV two times. Probably just commiserating with their radio colleagues.

Someone from the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement has visited three times, but has spent only an average of 16 seconds on the site. I assume just checking up on references to the BBM on the internet.

Interesting, no? (Well, I at least find it interesting

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

CBC Radio One - how mediocre can it get?

While the topic of this blog has been CBC Radio Two, the programming changes which have been taking place over the past year and a half and my interactions with CBC management and Members of Parliament over these changes, I feel I also have to comment on CBC Radio One at this point.

I've been listening to CBC Radio One from 8:00 AM to, at times, 6:00 PM while refinishing some kitchen cabinets for the past three weeks. Why CBC Radio One? Well, as you may know from reading other entries on this blog, I find CBC Radio Two intolerable, with the exception of Julie Nesrallah's show, Tempo. And, sad to say, I can not afford to put a Sirius satellite radio in every room of the house, including my basement workshop where I'm doing most of the work.

I begin the day with 'Ottawa Morning' and its perky host, Kathleen Petty. I find it a generally interesting and informative program, well worth listening to.

Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there. 'The Current' (with Anna Maria Tremonti) has its moments, but at times it can be silly and downright embarrassing. Take today's post-election coverage - do we really need to hear the views of drunks in bars in Chicago on the Obama election? There was also a segment in which a CBC reporter telephoned various people to get their views on the Obama win. At one point the reporter woke up a McCain supporter in California to interview her, and played the entire conversation, apparently uncut, including her poor husband telling us that the woman was asleep. Do we need to hear this?

I find 'Q' an increasingly vacuous, vapid, mindless attempt at entertainment. Do I really care about Axl Rose's upcoming CD, 'Chinese Democracy'? Do I want to hear the latest CD from AC/DC? The answer is, I believe, 'no' to both. And who is this Mino (Mimo? Nemo? Super Mario?) guy that Jian features on 'Q' from time to time? Do I give a damn about his opinions on anything whatsoever? Once again, no.

'The Point' I find rather pointless - sorry to make the obvious bad joke. Take the interview with the author of a book about rowing across the Atlantic ocean that was featured last week on either 'Ottawa Morning' or 'The Current'. While this was an interesting interview, the topic of rowing across the Atlantic was held up for ridicule on 'The Point'. Could someone please tell me what was the point of that, and why it's entertaining?

I'm sorry to say that CBC Radio is becoming a waste of radio spectrum. But you probably know this already, if you're reading this blog.